Special honors On Remembrance Day 2023
Yom HaShoah, the solemn Day of Remembrance for victims of the Holocaust, was marked this year by the Shelter Rock Jewish Center as an occasion to honor Irving and Adeline Roth, two former congregants who were influential figures in American Holocaust education.
On this year’s Yom HaShoah, the congregation’s leaders unveiled and dedicated a plaque in the synagogue’s Holocaust Memorial Garden & Education Center.
The plaque reads: “In loving memory of Adeline and Irving Roth who dedicated their lives to educating children and families about Judaism and the Holocaust.”
The Roth family was well-represented by sons Robert and Edward, and their spouses Candy and Lynne, and one of Irving and Addie’s many grandchildren.
Speakers included Sandy Pensak, a board member of the synagogue, who recalled the annual visits Irving Roth had made to the Hewlett (LI) Elementary School starting when she had been its principal. She cited his warmth and ability to connect to grade school students.
Rabbi Martin S. Cohen addressed the garden crowd about the evolution he has seen since the early post-war years, when Holocaust survivors’ stories were suppressed, to the blooming since the 1990s of efforts to capture those stories before the survivors had all passed away.
“Unlike most people, Irving only grew stronger as he aged,” Rabbi Cohen said. “He never said no to any invitation to speak to young people about the Holocaust, traveling to almost every state of the union. He was a good friend to us all. And he really was the dean of all Holocaust educators, the man on the ground whose teaching technique was simply to tell his story, not holding anything back.”
The garden ceremonies were capped with a rendition in Yiddish by Cantor Larry Goller of a Holocaust-era song.
The crowd then dispersed to the synagogue’s sanctuary for the evening prayer service, including the mourner’s Kaddish, and Rabbi Cohen read excerpts from Roth’s memoir, titled Bondi’s Brother.
The couple, long-time residents of Williston Park, were active members of the congregation.
Irving Roth, who was born in then-Czechoslovakia, had survived several Nazi concentration camps from the age of 14 until his liberation by American troops at age 18.
Until his death at age 91 in 2021, he bore the Nazi’s tattoo on his forearm which had branded him as a Jew, as a number rather than a person. Upon his retirement as an electrical engineer more than two decades ago, he recognized that Long Island, with many Holocaust survivors living here, needed a structure for Holocaust education. He began to give talks to Long Island schools and various groups, and he became the first Director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Temple Judea, Roslyn.
In October 2022, the Center was renamed for him. He began to travel more widely across the country, in visits to schools, colleges and churches and gave interviews to national media.
At Temple Judea, Roth initiated the innovative Adopt-A-Survivor program that has since been emulated throughout the country, through which a youth learns the story of a single survivor through a face-to-face meeting, and pledges to repeat the story decades into the future as a way to keep the memory fresh.
Roth had become an internationally known figure by his final years, traveling the world. He also published a book about the harrowing experiences he and his older brother had suffered together. His brother was killed just months before the camps were liberated.
Irving’s wife, known as Addie, who predeceased him, was a widely respected early childhood educator who had long directed the Early Childhood Center at Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn Heights and who also had shaped a similar program at Shelter Rock Jewish Center. She fully supported her husband’s second career of travel, to spread a message about the dark paths of bigotry.
—Information provided by Vivian Leber